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What Are Alternative Investments? Definition and Examples

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What Exactly Is a Alternative Investment?

A financial asset that does not fit into one of the traditional investment categories is known as an alternative investment. Typical categories include securities like stocks, bonds, and cash. Private equity or venture capital, hedge funds, managed futures, art and antiquities, commodities, and derivatives contracts are examples of alternative investments. Another popular category for alternative investments is real estate.

Learning about Alternative Investments

Due to their complexity, lack of regulation, and level of risk, most alternative investment assets are owned by accredited, high-net-worth individuals or institutional investors. Particularly when compared to mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), many alternative investments have high minimum investment requirements and fee structures. Additionally, there are fewer opportunities for these investments to promote to potential investors and provide verifiable performance statistics. Although starting minimums and upfront investment fees for alternative assets may be expensive, transaction costs are often lower than those for traditional assets because of lower levels of turnover.

Particularly when compared to their conventional equivalents, the majority of alternative assets are very illiquid. For instance, due to a dearth of buyers, investors are likely to find it far harder to sell an 80-year-old bottle of wine than 1,000 shares of Apple Inc. Due to the rarity of the assets and the transactions surrounding them, investors may even find it challenging to value alternative investments. A seller of a 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle $20 gold coin, for instance, could find it challenging to estimate its worth given that only 11 of them are known to exist and only one of them is permitted to be lawfully held.

Alternative Investments: Types

Actual Estate
Investments in physical properties or securities based on real estate, such as real estate investment trusts (REITs), real estate mutual funds, or crowdfunding platforms, are considered real estate investments. Investors aim for operational income to possibly offer continuing, predictable cashflow in addition to capital growth of physical assets.

Raw goods like gold, silver, oil, or agricultural items are considered commodities. Due to their inherent qualities, investors can invest in these physical items that have practical use and frequently continuous demand. For instance, gold is utilized in many different industries, which may explain why its price is considered more steady.


Farmland is an alternative investment that is a combination of real estate and commodities. If operations and commodity sales are successful, farm owners may also get recurring financial proceeds in addition to the benefits of having real, tangible land.

Collectibles and Art
Art, sports memorabilia, entertainment memorabilia, and other collectibles can serve as alternative investments and double as hobbies in some cases. These things may be historically significant or gain value over time when linked individuals (such as the artist, the associated actor, or the associated athlete) age.

Cryptocurrency, a new type of digital money, is viewed as an alternative investment since it falls beyond the conventional parameters of equities and bonds. Cryptocurrency may give capital appreciation or passive income owing to staking incentives, despite some claims that it does not offer a solid buffer against other risky investments.

Private equity and venture capital
Contrary to popular belief, venture capital and private equity are merely a more sophisticated subset of stock investing. Investors may look for alternate ways to invest in start-ups or private businesses rather than trading shares of publicly traded corporations on an open market.

Self-Help Lending

Lending money through online marketplaces that link investors and borrowers is what it means to invest in peer-to-peer lending. While peer-to-peer lending is done on more private markets and frequently involves dealing with riskier clients (therefore with larger potential profits), it takes a very similar shape to investing in bonds.

Alternative Investments are governed

Due to a lack of restrictions, alternative investments are vulnerable to investment fraud and scams even when they don’t include rare goods like coins or works of art. Alternative investments may fall under a less defined legal framework than traditional investments. They are covered under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is tasked with investigating their operations.
They typically aren’t required to register with the SEC, though. As a result, unlike mutual funds and ETFs, they are not supervised or controlled by the SEC.

Therefore, it is crucial that investors perform thorough due diligence when thinking about alternative investments. Some alternative products are only open to authorized investors. A person is considered an accredited investor if they have a net worth of at least $1 million (excluding their principal property) or an annual income of at least $200,000 (or $300,000 when including a spouse’s income). Accredited investors may also include financial professionals who possess a FINRA Series 7, 65, or 82 license.

Alternative Investments: Benefits and Drawbacks

Alternative investments may have poor correlations to traditional investments like stocks and bonds due to their own characteristics and variances from traditional markets. In order to possibly assist diversify an investment portfolio and lower overall portfolio risk, investors most frequently look to alternatives.

Alternative investments frequently offer a larger return potential than standard investments since they are thought of as riskier investments. Alternative investments can exist in a variety of shapes and configurations, offering investors the freedom to select the investment that most closely matches their preferences, level of risk tolerance, and investing objectives. For instance, depending on potential for passive income, investors could select particular cryptocurrencies.

Certain alternative investments provide security against price increases. Consider a real estate lease with automatic rent hikes or a contract for goods whose prices are linked to the market’s current pricing and are subject to change. Investors might select certain assets that might move in parallel with inflation as compared to other investment types.

Access to specialized markets or emerging markets that are not accessible through standard investments may be made possible through alternative investments. A baseball fan may be more passionate about purchasing an autographed baseball, for example, and investors may find this more attractive. However, because to the illiquidity of the market, the investor may also find it more challenging to sell the item. Investors may view this as a plus as it may increase price stability because there will be less opportunities to panic sell or move rapidly based on emotion.

Alternative Investments Have Drawbacks

Alternative investments sometimes have greater fees and charges compared to standard investments because of their restricted accessibility. Private equity and hedge funds, for instance, sometimes impose substantial management and performance fees, which can materially lower investors’ profits.

Many alternative investing products are fee-based, in contrast to many brokers that provide free trades of numerous equities and bonds.

Alternative investments are frequently illiquid, as was already indicated; this might be advantageous. However, take into account the scenario in which an investor urgently has to sell a priceless piece of movie memorabilia in order to raise money. They might not be able to readily or quickly sell the goods without experiencing high transaction costs or value loss since there might not be a vibrant or substantial market.

Alternative investments could not be often traded, therefore it might be more challenging to find market information on past patterns or pricing. Some alternative investments may be subject to less regulatory scrutiny and have a larger risk of fraud, misbehavior, and other abuses than public corporations, which are required to abide by several reporting regulations. Alternative investments, which were also stated above, typically yield larger returns, despite the fact that they are riskier than traditional investments.

Moreover, alternative investments are frequently more difficult. Some may contain complicated terms and structures that are challenging for investors to comprehend, which raises the possibility that they will make ill-informed or incorrect investment decisions. Others might not have easily accessible market values, making it challenging to estimate their genuine worth.

How to Make Investments in Alternative Assets

Depending on the alternative you’re using, there are quite diverse ways to begin investing in alternative investments. Some could need a lot of money and research, while others might only need a few mouse clicks.

Here’s a general overview of how to get started with several choices.Purchasing stock in a private firm or a group of companies is a classic private equity investing strategy. Through venture capital funds, crowdsourcing platforms, or private equity firms, investors can take part in private equity investments.

Real estate: There are several ways that investors might invest in real estate, including purchasing rental properties, purchasing REITs, or using crowdfunding websites.

Hedge Funds: To be eligible, investors must have a high net worth and a sizeable amount of investing capital. Hedge funds are normally only available to authorized investors. By using brokers or hedge fund managers, investors can invest in hedge funds.

Commodities: Investing in commodities entails purchasing tangible goods like gold, silver, oil, or agricultural products. Through commodity trading platforms, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), or mutual funds, investors can also invest in commodities.

Art and Collectibles: Through art dealers, auction houses, or internet marketplaces, investors can invest in art and collectibles. Due to the rarity of these commodities, take into account the reputation of the dealer while considering trading options.

Cryptocurrencies: Through cryptocurrency exchanges, brokers, or internet platforms, investors can purchase cryptocurrencies. Investors frequently need to put local currency into a digital wallet that will store their private keys and money.

Alternative Investments’ Tax Effects

Many alternative investing businesses have separate tax laws since they represent a totally new asset class than stocks and bonds. Additionally, think about how certain options could have other sources of income, such as a capital gain from the sale of a rental property in addition to rent income.

Alternative investments like collectibles and fine art can not provide the same tax benefits as more conventional ones like equities and bonds. Additionally, the IRS clearly defines collectibles as items like art or coins, and net capital gains are only taxed at a maximum rate of 28%.

Tax regulations on cryptocurrencies and other digital assets are still changing. When selling a digital asset for fiat, trading it for goods or services, or exchanging it for another digital asset, transactions involving these digital assets, such as virtual money, cryptocurrencies, stablecoins, and non-fungible tokens, may result in taxable transactions. Additionally, changes in the value of digital assets frequently lead to capital gains or losses, unlike changes in the value of the U.S. dollar, which would not result in a taxable event. Real estate and specific energy investments, for example, may provide tax-deferred or tax-free investment choices. This may include 1031 exchanges and Opportunity Zone investments, where investors can utilize the profits from the sale of a different item to invest in a different asset that is similar to or identical to the original asset in order to save on taxes.

To guarantee optimum efficiency in safeguarding returns as you begin your journey into alternative investments, think about seeing both a financial counselor and a tax advisor. This will help you to better understand how to preserve your assets.

What Make Up Alternative Investments’ Main Features?

In comparison to retail-focused mutual funds and ETFs, alternative investments often have higher fees and lower minimum investment amounts. Additionally, they often have lower transaction costs, and obtaining verified financial data for these assets can be challenging. In addition to being less liquid than traditional securities, alternative investments also have a tendency to be less complex to evaluate because of their limited trading volume.

How Can Investors Benefit from Alternative Investments?

Because alternative investments have a low connection with the stock and bond markets and keep their value during a market slump, some investors look for them. Hard assets like gold, oil, and real estate are also reliable inflation hedges. In order to diversify their assets, many significant organizations, including pension funds and family offices, look to alternative investment vehicles.

What Regulatory Requirements Apply to Alternative Investments?

Compared to more conventional securities, alternative investments are subject to less explicit regulations. The SEC regulates alternative investment vehicles, although their securities do not need to be registered. Because of this, the majority of these investment vehicles are only accessible to certified institutions or rich investors.

Investment alternatives that are not standard investments like stocks, bonds, and cash are known as alternative investments. Various types of assets, such as real estate, commodities, private equity, hedge funds, art, collectibles, or cryptocurrency, might be included in alternative investments. Despite having better returns and more diversity than other widely used investment strategies, these assets are typically less liquid than traditional investments.


  • A financial asset classified as an alternative investment does not fall within the traditional equity, income, or cash classifications.
  • Alternative investments include things like real estate, commodities, hedge funds, private equity or venture capital, and physical assets.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of the United States does not regulate most alternative investments as strictly and they are typically a little less liquid.
  • Alternative investments, which were previously only available to accredited or institutional investors, are now accessible to regular investors through alternative funds.
  • Real estate, commodities, cryptocurrencies, and collectibles are examples of common alternative investment types.

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